Thursday, June 9, 2022
Do you recall the last day of the Premier League season? Liverpool beat Wolverhampton Wanderers to mean that Manchester City had to beat Aston Villa to win the title, which they did. But there was more to the story than that.
City had to stage a late comeback with three goals in five minutes, as Matty Cash and Philippe Coutinho put Villa two goals ahead. Just when it looked like Villa manager Steven Gerrard might help his former club Liverpool to the title, Ilkay Gundogan (2) and Rodri made sure that the final script was how people imagined it playing out before a ball was kicked that day.
It took until the 76th minute for Gundogan to open the scoring for the home side, and then we all knew what would happen once he did. A blue wave kept rolling towards the Villa goal and even with nine minutes left, the title was secured. It was a clear demonstration that the best TEAM had won the league. You can argue that they’ve also got the best individuals too but only by playing as a collective unit have they dominated another domestic campaign.
Think about the selfless goals City have scored this year, where someone rolls the ball across the face of goal and Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, whoever, slots it home from only a few feet out. Think of the workrate even of the highest paid, most talented players. Think of the tracking back. Think of the defensive blocks. Think of the covering for a team-mate when they advance up the pitch. Think of the joy when another player scores. Think of the celebrations. Think of the Premier League trophy.
There’s no way City would have been in with a chance of winning the title and no way they would have come back from two-nil down on the last day if these players were only in it for themselves or considered their own gains as higher priority than the team’s. Gundogan, Rodri, Mahrez, De Bruyne, Sterling, Foden, etc. are brilliant players but they’re even better because they realise how important the team is.
A Guardiola pep talk
Pep Guardiola says it, himself:
“We need the whole squad, every player of the team, if we are to be successful.”
He also says:
“I don’t like it when a player says, ‘I like freedom; I want to play for myself.’ Because the player has to understand he is part of a team with 10 other players. If everyone wants to be a jazz musician, it will be chaos. They will not be a team, and nothing will be possible.”
What would Guardiola say about your team or company?
What do your best players do when they see a team-mate in a better position?
What do they do when they’re up against it or a competitor is beating them?
Do they enjoy other people’s success?
Do they stick to the gameplan or try to implement their own?
Do they hold onto the ball for too long or quickly pass it to a colleague?
Do you have individuals that celebrate their own successes long before they contribute to wider team glory?
I could throw even more questions at you, but the point is, if you’d be worried about Guardiola coming into your office, or you’re unsure how to respond, your team might not be as tight as you think it is, or as connected as it once was.
There are many reasons why a team starts to break down, and they vary from the bottom to the top. It can be a leader’s fault, or it can be the newest recruit in the lowest paid position.
The sad thing is, I’ve found that people are generally happier as team players and most individuals achieve more as part of a wider group, but that isn’t always accepted. Many leaders are on a power trip and lots of team members convince themselves that they are the most important cog in the machine. If De Bruyne started to think that, even for a second, Guardiola wouldn’t pick him.
Look what happened when City duo Jack Grealish and Foden were photographed on a night out last December—they were left out for the games against Newcastle and Leicester. Why? Because it was about the message it sent to the team. If partying before the busiest period of the season was more important than preparation, then their eyes had strayed from the goal. That doesn’t mean he didn’t pick them again, but it was a timely—and stern—reminder.
Did Guardiola mind when Grealish helped himself to a few (many) drinks upon clinching the title—no—because he also recognises the importance of celebrating achievements together when the time is right. This is necessary in business too. There are no trophies or seasons, just products, quotes, orders, sales, and year-ends. Without raising a glass occasionally or taking some down time, it can become a treadmill and people become physically and mentally exhausted. Try putting a date in the diary for a Friday afternoon curry or kebab, for example. Even a meal together to thank each other for their hard work helps.
“Hopefully tomorrow we can celebrate together in Manchester’s streets with our cigars and beers” — Guardiola
Grow a team of honest, loyal people
As City have proven with the signing of Erling Haaland, it’s necessary to constantly improve even a winning team. But even if you’re looking to start a team, expand one, change one, or move one, it only comes together with the right personnel. Even if budget allowed, picking the best there is from goalkeeper to centre forward, or director of business development to fleet manager, is unlikely to work. Across the same city of Manchester, we’ve seen what can happen to a side with decent players, but poor leadership, and non-existent teamwork.
I’ve recently revisited an old policy on team ethics and recruitment. I was always wedded to the theory that the best teams, just like the first ones I assembled, were built with honest, loyal individuals that place the team, or business, before themselves. I strayed from that somewhat along the way, thinking that as teams get bigger and must move faster, perhaps other attributes become more important. But I was wrong. They don’t.
Long-term, sustained, enduring success is built on honest, loyal people. If you have a team of two honest, loyal people, add a third honest, loyal person if you want to carry on the same trajectory, at least in the long-term.
Even Haaland will have to accept certain non-negotiables next season and if he doesn’t, he’ll be on the sidelines like anyone else who starts getting too big for their boots.
Individuals within a team
None of this means that teams are made up of clones. You can’t have a squad of Haalands, De Bruynes, or Sterlings—or even Alan Varneys (imagine that!). They just have to share certain values. This is one of the reasons why people must embrace the team’s goals before their own, otherwise those in certain roles get all the praise. Ok, every team needs a goalscorer or top salesperson, but where would they be without the goalkeeper or worker on the shop-floor that splices the wire rope? That’s without mentioning all the other positions in between.
If you’re still in doubt about the value of individuals working as a team, look at the willingness of Man City players to do the unglamorous, thankless work of tracking back, getting goal-side, and pressing. When they lose possession it’s as though they can’t access oxygen until they win it again. Compare the body language of representatives of winning and losing teams, generally.
I’ll conclude with one last Guardiola quote:
“I am not dealing with footballers; I am dealing with people. They have fears and worry about failing and making fools of themselves in front of 80,000 people. I have to make them see that without each other they are nothing.”
It’s the same in business.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd